Web 2.0 for the pros

Sheila Campbell's social-networking efforts bring federal Web managers together.

As told to Doug Beizer

Sheila Campbell, manager of the Government Web Best Practices Team in the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and co-chairperson of the Federal Web Managers Council, manages three interagency initiatives. They are: Web Manager University, which provides low-cost, practical training to federal Web professionals; Webcontent.gov, a source for federal Web requirements and best practices; and the Web Content Managers Forum, where more than 1,500 federal, state, and local Web professionals share resources and work to reduce duplication across government.

Before we created Webcontent.gov, government Web managers didn't have an authoritative, central place to find out what requirements and best practices they needed to follow. The Federal Web Managers Council had made recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget on policies for federal public Web sites — as part of OMB's requirements for the E-Government Act of 2002 — but they weren't available online.

So we put those best practices up on WebContent.gov, and OMB encouraged agencies to go there to learn about how to implement the policies. That gave us legitimacy, and was a huge help to agency Web managers who needed an authoritative source to convince their bosses that they were doing the right thing. We continue to build on those best practices, leveraging the tremendous expertise that we have in our government Web manager community.

The Federal Web Managers Council and the Web Best Practices team at GSA support a network of over 1,500 federal, state, and local Web managers across the country. For years, we've collaborated via an e-mail listserv. While this has served us well and helped us build a community, it hasn't allowed us to do the kind of in-depth collaboration we now need to take us to the next level.

With a listserv, it's all or nothing, and you're emailing everyone about everything. But with the social-networking site, we're able to build specific communities around specific topics like social media, user-centered design, managing multilingual Web sites, Web metrics, search technology, etc.

It's a much more focused way for us to communicate with each other, and it's much easier for folks to find specific subject matter experts within the government Web manager community. So it will help us build new relationships, strengthen existing ones, and have online discussions on key strategic issues facing our community.

The reason this kind of collaboration is so important is that a lot of government Web managers are working in isolation. In some cases, they're a lone Web content manager for their city's Web site. Or they're at an agency that wants to try something innovative, but wants to first see who else has tested the waters. Or maybe they have a lot of expertise that they want to share with others. So it's a very diverse group, and we want to tap into the wisdom of the crowds to help us all do our jobs better and support each other.

These days, people are also feeling overwhelmed by the number of social networks they belong to, like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and GovLoop, so this is yet another one. So we've addressed that by providing unique value to the community — it's the one place where they can go to collaborate with their peers, discuss common issues, share documents, and read news that's relevant to their specific work as a government Web manager.

Webcontent.gov and Web Manager University have evolved to become integrated entities. There's a lot of interaction because the two programs are managed out of the same division at GSA and because the program missions naturally support each other.

At every Web Manager University class, we spend a lot of time talking about the best practices on WebContent.gov and how people can get involved in various communities of interest around different topics.

So, for example, if we host a class on how to write a blog, we'll talk about the best practices about blogging that are published on WebContent.gov. Similarly, on WebContent.gov, we link people to the relevant training classes from Web Manager University.

These connections are important because we've found that if government Web managers have these key areas of support, it will help them do their jobs well

There's no question that there's tremendous potential with Web 2.0 tools. While a lot of agencies have experimented with Web 2.0, much of the potential is still untapped. But we need to be strategic, not reactionary.

We shouldn't use Web 2.0 technologies just for the sake of using them, just so government can say we're doing it. These tools need to be used — just like any other technology — to accomplish agency mission.

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